Students start anonymous email tool, and Snooki's fiance takes notice
On March 5, Jionni LaValle — fiance of “Jersey Shore” star Snooki — tweeted to his over 120,000 followers about FuLumail.com, a start-up launched that day by Ash Egan ’14, Bobby Grogan ’13 and Jason Adleberg ’14.
“My man @njBobbyg started The First Mainstreamed Anon. Email Server fulumail.com check this out!!!,” LaValle said, referring to Grogan, in a tweet.
FuLumail.com is named for the anonymous “Forget U” or “Love U” messages users can send to any email address through the website. FuLus, which can contain everything from simple text to embedded videos, are published on the website, and particularly popular messages are featured on a special section.
Less than a day after LaValle’s tweet, the number of messages increased from four pages to 40 pages, Grogan said.
“I got 45 FuLus myself last Monday,” he said. “The activity increased by 400 percent on our Facebook page.”
Grogan, who is in charge of marketing for the start-up, originally came up with the forum for anonymous conversation last semester. He then mentioned it to Egan.
“I just told Ash about my idea and didn’t expect anything to come from it,” Grogan said. “But the next day, he came back and told me that we had to get in contact with designers and coders and begin work right away.”
Egan then began searching for a programmer in the computer science department. He said he made a lot of contacts but that many students were less inclined to join Grogan and Egan because their idea and business plan were still relatively abstract.
In November, Egan and Grogan presented their website — then named FuLu.com — at Princeton Pitch, an annual elevator pitch competition in which teams have 60 seconds to convey their business plan to a panel of judges.
“FuLu.com: We aren’t fancy, we’re for the average person,” Grogan said in his pitch in November. “The concept is simple. A website that allows you to send emails anonymously. No frills here. Have a boss you don’t like but can’t say something to his face? FuLu.com. Have a teacher you can’t stand? FuLu.com. That’s our pitch — vote for us.”
After Princeton Pitch, Egan said he met with one of the judges, Greg Olsen, who is president of a local investment firm and a visiting lecturer in the Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education.
“We were not pitching FuLu to him, but we just wanted his perspective. He basically said, ‘Go with it. Why not?’ ” Egan said. “Even though he did not completely understand the website because of the generation gap, it was still exciting to hear a successful venture capitalist say ‘go with it.’ ”
Grogan said he and Egan were initially planning to launch the site in January, but their plan was delayed until they could recruit a local programmer to collaborate with a freelance programmer in India. By Valentine’s Day — when they had hoped the site would attract users — the site was still not ready.
Grogan said they wanted a programmer on campus who could work more closely with them as a team.
Grogan eventually found Adleberg and asked him to code for the project. Adleberg is a former staff writer for The Daily Princetonian.
Adleberg said he joined the project because he believed it would be fun to work with Egan and Grogan.
“In my opinion, the team dynamic is the greatest part of working on FuLumail,” Adleberg said. “It doesn’t feel like work because it is such a great idea, and Bobby and Ash are so much fun to work with.”
Egan said the feedback following the launch has been mainly positive, despite the challenges they faced on launch day.
"The first day, I was ripping out my hair,” Egan said. “The 'send a FuLu’ button was broken, and the FuLu would keep going into the junk mail. But I knew it was going to be okay because it was my friends helping me out and using the site."
After the interface is perfected, Adleberg said the team will work hard to better market the website.
Egan said he ordered 2,000 stickers and that the team has been distributing and placing them across campus. He noted that they have also been utilizing Facebook and Twitter.
Grogan said the team is trying to make it clear through social media that FuLumail is an entertaining service, not a hate-mail service.
"There is a check box to make sure that users are not sending anything like threats because we do not allow that,” Grogan said. “We are not responsible for them either.”
Egan added that he has gotten a lot of inspiration and support from the University community.
"To see all the people around me who were starting businesses was really exciting, and that's what I really want to do,” Egan said. “Starting FuLumail has introduced me to a whole new side of things I didn't even know existed.”
Adleberg said the team hopes for viral success at the University and then expansion to other universities, high schools and even the workplace.
“We want Fulumail to become something everybody is using and talking about," Adleberg said. "We want FuLu to become a verb."